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Four Times a Year

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The trees in Battery City have green leaves, shiny in their newness. The ones not shredded by bolt fire, that is.

Gerard's still healing a hurt shoulder from their last Drac entanglement, so he's covering Mikey, gun in his good hand. Mikey could probably carry the box of pills in one hand and his gun in the other, but they've nearly lost batches that way. Better to use two hands and have the others watch your back.

After Mikey's in the backseat of the car, and Ray climbs in beside him, Frank hops in the driver's seat. Gerard needs two hands to drive. He doesn't need two hands to send a beam right between masked eyes, or to scream at the ones left behind as Frank starts the car.

The strands of Gerard's red hair whip in the corners of his vision as they peel away.


"You first."

Gerard looks down at the water glass and pills in Mikey's hands like he's never seen them before. He scowls as his eyes snap back up. "Fuck that."

"You're healing."

"I go last." He always goes last. Just because they don't usually say it out loud doesn't make it less true.

Mikey holds his hands out and waits. If the pills and water weren't valuable enough to kill for, Gerard would slap them both out of his hands.

But tattooed hands take them instead, and Frank gives Mikey his usual shit-eating grin as he pecks Gerard on the cheek. "He goes last."

Gerard could kiss Frank. Except that Frank salutes with his glass and downs the pills almost right away, and he doesn't kiss anyone who's under the influence. Instead, he bumps Frank's arm with his. It's not the bad arm - that one's in a sling - but he still pulls the skin around the stitches enough that he grits his teeth.

Mikey's eyes narrow. "I'm taking mine now."

The smile that had appeared on Gerard's face freezes.

Frank puts a hand on Gerard's chest before he can reach for Mikey. Frank's eyes are already a little glazed as he says, "It'll be over faster this way."

"But I'm hurt," Gerard says. "Ray--"

"Can handle it." Mikey has another glass and pills. "Unless you want to go now, and I can help him out?"

Gerard shoves Frank's hand away, but he walks out of the diner instead of closer to Mikey. If Mikey wants to play martyr, Gerard isn't going to watch.


The physical benefits are obvious before the sun even sets on the first day. Both Frank and Mikey have brighter skin, and after they've finished the three-day pill treatment, they'll be more filled out, too. Frank's facial scar's even started to heal.

Other effects are obvious, too.

Mikey smiles, wide and toothy, when Gerard comes back from patrol early. Even if Gerard tells Mikey his injury had been hurting, he won't care.

"Hot out, isn't it?" Mikey stands up from the booth and sways toward him.

Gerard stalks past him. He can't look, not at the vacant stare, not at the way Mikey's arms are raised like he'll hug Gerard if he gets close enough.

"Why don't we just go back into the city?" Mikey asks, trailing behind. "It's much cooler there."

Gerard walks faster into the old kitchen, shoving the door closed. Mikey stays outside, but Gerard can't block out his voice entirely.

"I bet our old place is still there!"

Frank's in the back, slumped in a corner. He blinks heavily and doesn't seem to know Gerard's there, as usual. They can only tell it's wearing off when he starts talking again.

Gerard takes a pain pill - one of his last - and lies on his sleeping bag. He only has to listen to Mikey sing brightly in the dining room for five minutes before the drowsiness pulls him under.


When day five comes, two days after the last treatment, both Mikey and Frank are shaking too much to hold their guns steady. But Mikey's fallen into sullen silence again, and Frank's the one hopping on diner stools.

Gerard doesn't see either of them for long. He's too busy driving out with Show Pony for more medical supplies because his stitches ripped on a run the day before. Not that he told anyone. Judging by the way Ray ran for the radio, he didn't need to.

They find sterile gauze and thread in an old bunker. They don't find more pain pills.

Gerard takes the City pills Ray handed him before he left and hopes he gets hazy before Pony stitches him up again.


Pony manages to get him back to the diner before the worst of the seizures start. But he and Ray still have to carry him into the back because he's lost all use of his limbs.

Mikey and Frank hold down his arms and legs as he convulses. It's not the first time they've done it, but Gerard's shirt is sticky with freshly-flowing blood, and the world darkens around him. Not enough to lose consciousness, of course. Just enough so that Gerard can only see a patch of peeling wall paint, trembling with each convulsion.

If the pills replenish his blood faster than he loses it, he'll live. If the pills repair the damage in his brain faster than it shuts down his entire body, he'll live. If he can keep his teeth clenched and not bite off his tongue, it might not even be too hard for a little while.

If, if, if.


No one looks good when Gerard's five days are over.

For once, it has nothing to do with radiation sickness.


It's wrong that the flowers in Battery City aren't wilting. The desert's almost hot enough to fry a lizard; some of it should be browning the plant life inside the barrier, at least. But just like all of the vacant-eyed residents, the plants are nearly as glossy as they were three months before.

Gerard's carrying the pills, but they're walking casually, no guns drawn. Gary found them a way in this time that took stealth, and even if Gerard feels every camera taking pictures of his temporarily dyed hair, he'll take it.

"Thought we said we were saving some pills this time," he mutters as they wait on the corner for the transport that'll take them back out to the zones.

Ray snorts, and Frank laughs under his breath.

Gerard shifts the box under his arm, and it rattles. Enough pills to keep dozens of 'runners and refugees alive for months. Maybe the rest of the year.

Of course they don't hoard them. Gerard never could.


Gerard goes last, as usual.

It's like clockwork for the others. Mikey doesn't sleep and wears more holes in the tile as he talks about everything he used to do in the City. Frank manages to piss without help more often than not, but Gerard has to prop him up and feed him all his cans of pup. Ray's relatively self-sufficient, maybe more than usual, but every time he tries to speak, he ends up closing his mouth and frowning, like the words disappear before they leave his lips.

When Ray's mostly shaken off his detox, they all pull the blast shutters down on the diner and haul the supplies into the back and lock the doors. Gerard sits on the floor, lets Mikey hand him his pills, and stares up at the others.

They're circled around him, mouths set. If Gerard still had the tools to draw, he would shape them into mythic warriors, bright and terrible.

In reality, they just look pale and worried as Gerard chokes the pills down.


Luckily, it's not seizures this time. Or much of anything besides distance.

It's not exactly like Frank's usual slump. Gerard's almost himself, if a little brighter and cheerier when they play their games of Go Fish to pass the days. He'll just black out in the middle of games and come to hours later, sitting in the same position, everyone else magically appears in different positions around him. It's not as jarring if they were leaving the room, but it's enough to make him dizzy.

On day five, they've unlocked the door again; their only fan's broken, and they need something to keep from dying. It's also nice to go to the toilet instead of passing the jug around.

Everyone but Gerard and Frank are asleep, Gerard because he can't sleep and Frank because he's outside on watch. Gerard blacks out sitting on his sleeping bag, staring at the floor...

...and wakes up in the bathroom, his belt in his hands.

He's watching himself wind the belt around his throat, smile wide, when he blacks out again.


A bandanna's keeping his wrists together. Ray's by his side when he starts struggling.

"Hey," he asks, leaning over. "You hearing me?"

"Yeah." Gerard's mouth is dry. It's nothing compared to the shots of pain through his throat when he sucks in a breath.

The room's quiet except for their shuffling as Ray makes sure Gerard can sit up and drink some water. It hurts, but Gerard's had worse. The kind of worse other people have given him, sure, but worse.

He takes one wheezing breath, and another. Breathing's never seemed so hard before.

"Where?" Gerard asks finally, gaze skimming Mikey and Frank's abandoned sleeping bags and the dark diner beyond the open door.

"Out. They'll be back." Ray ruffles Gerard's hair. "You think you can get some sleep?"

Gerard nods and lowers back down. But heavy as his lids are, as much as he usually needs to sleep after his treatment, he stares at the wall across for hours.


Mikey and Frank are back when Gerard wakes up. They say nothing about what happened.

Mikey doesn't say anything else, either. It's not the silent treatment; he gives Gerard tight-lipped smiles whenever he enters the room, and he hugs him before he goes out on runs. But it takes him a week to say anything out loud to anyone, and it's to Gerard, voice clear as he asks him to hand him his bike helmet.

Frank acts like the little shit he always is: getting in people's faces, kicking up more dust than he needs to when he takes his bike on patrol, smoking like a chimney. But when he and Gerard share their bags, long after they've given each other their usual handjobs, he stays clinging like he can weigh him down. And he does, in a way; Gerard's always stiff when he wakes up because he can't move in the night. It's fucking weird that a guy that small could have that much strength.

But Gerard shakes him off every morning and ignores the aches in his bones when they're apart.



The leaves from the trees stay green even after they've detached from their branches. They make a good cushion for Gerard when he drops to avoid the fire from the line of Dracs lying in wait.

They also make a good cushion for the others when they take bolts to various body parts and fall.

It's automatic at this point: assess, cover fire, retreat. Frank's hand injury prevents shooting, and Mikey's bleeding legs make crawling a necessity, but they make it back. But Ray's out cold, and Gerard's the only one who can grab him. That, too, is automatic.

Less automatic is remembering that Gerard only stashed one bottle of pills in his pocket before they bolted. It's only when they rattle along with the shockwaves caused by Frank's exit explosives and they penetrate the City barrier that Gerard does the mental math. There's enough this season.

For three of them.


Gerard stops the Trans Am long before the diner.

Triage turns out to be simple. Mikey's slumped in the back seat, pale as a ghost. Frank's trying to tie his bandanna around one of Mikey's leg wounds with one hand, and the other's under his shirt, staining the fabric in a wide scarlet circle. Ray doesn't respond when Gerard slaps his face, but there's a weak pulse under his skin despite the gaping hole in his chest.

Not that Gerard needs to make any decisions.

He goes last.

Forcing Ray's first treatment down isn't easy, but Gerard's given pills to someone dying before, so he manages. Mikey takes his without a word and swallows just before he passes out. Frank's face is pinched, and when he shifts his hidden hand, it's obvious that it doesn't have all five fingers.

"Your turn," Gerard says. He slips the pills in Frank's good hand and pushes the fingers closed to make sure Frank has a good grip.

"After we get back."


Frank's lip curls. It's only when he starts sagging that he tosses the pills in his mouth, but he doesn't swallow. Not until he's grabbed Gerard with his working hand and crushed their closed mouths together.

When he pulls back, Gerard can see Frank's eyes going glassy and distant, but his good hand's still clenched in Gerard's jacket. Gerard eases his fingers off, and Frank tries to grab again until Gerard grabs his hand and squeezes gently. Frank squeezes back.

As Frank settles back in his seat, Gerard counts to three, one for each breath he takes, and starts the car again.


He drags Ray inside the diner first.

They have a board for moments like this, complete with old bungee cords wrapped around, some of Pony's skate wheels on the bottom, and holes in the top. After Gerard hooks Ray in, he slips his hands through the holes and yanks.

Ray's too tall for the board, so his feet bounce on the dirt behind him. The shoe trail goes next to a blood trail; most of the bleeding in his chest has stopped, but there's still enough to sludge off the old stains on the board and moisten the shadowed ground. Gerard stares so he doesn't stare at the car. Or at the visible wound.

He clicks the lock with one hand and props Ray up with the other. It takes him three tries. Even in the heat, his hands are too covered in sweat and blood to get much of a grip.

Ray's chest rises and falls in shuddering breaths by the time Gerard rolls him onto his sleeping bag. The more he heals, the more he'll twitch. It doesn't matter if it's the pain or the pills that cause it. The end result is the same.

Mikey's easier to drag inside, but he's still. Still enough that Gerard pauses every few feet to watch for his breath and feel for his pulse. There's no reason to think Mikey won't wake up, even if he isn't moving. Every other time Gerard doubted, he was proven wrong.

He doesn't dare hug Mikey when he lies him out, but he closes his eyes and kisses Mikey's temple before he goes anywhere. He brushes his dirty bangs out of his face, too. That'll tickle when he wakes up again.

Frank's still awake when Gerard comes back. Not aware - a hand passing in front of his face does nothing - but he ducks when Gerard pushes to keep his head from hitting the car's roof, he puts his feet under him when Gerard pulls him out of the car, and he walks when Gerard walks. Gerard has to take some of his weight, and he can only grab Frank's unharmed hand, but Frank grabs back.

Prying him free is trickier. Gerard wouldn't bother if he didn't have to check on Mikey and Ray. But he does, so he sits Frank down and jerks away before he lingers too long. Frank curls in on himself, just like always, and Gerard goes to get their supply stash.


Over the three days, two of them nearly die.

Frank chokes on his can of pup on the first night. Or, rather, he tries to breathe instead of swallow. Gerard grabs the tubes they use immediately and cleans out his throat. It wouldn't have happened if Gerard had sucked it up and reused the last of the coffee grounds. It's better to drink sludge and stay awake than to watch a motionless Frank turn blue.

He sleeps between Frank and Mikey after that. He holds Frank's good hand and Mikey's opposite, lacing their fingers even when they don't grab back.

It's how he knows when Mikey's heart stops completely on the second night.

Gerard hooks up the defibrillator and sticks a stim syringe in Mikey's arm while it warms up. He pumps Mikey's chest, breathes in Mikey's mouth, checks for his pulse over and over. He lays the paddles on Mikey twice and says "clear" twice. He even looks at Ray and Frank during the first time and sees them sleeping and unresponsive. It's just second nature to warn everyone away.

The third time does the trick. Mikey gasps without opening his eyes, and Gerard pulls the paddles back immediately. No need to give him more burns on his chest.

Gerard doesn't sleep after that.


"Jesus. Gerard?"

Gerard looks up. He hasn't had any reason to look up during the last four days. But Ray's standing in front of the light, hair illuminated by the bulb, shadowy.

"What happened?" Ray asks.

"Which part?"

Ray rubs his chest. "I can guess this part. What happened to you?"

When Gerard sighs, Ray holds out a hand, and Gerard takes it. On his feet, he's closer to Ray's height, and he can see the tight half-smile on his face.

He claps his shoulder. "Nothing I couldn't handle."


Mikey and Frank wake up on the fifth day. Gerard's first thought is to hide the stims away again; they're out of the coma sleep, and they're too fucking valuable to leave lying around.

Frank drapes himself over Gerard's back as he hides the syringes behind their safety panel. "Missed you."

Gerard pats his arm, but he makes himself let go. "You're gonna miss me some more. Dr. D's got a read on some Dracs, and I haven't been on patrol in a few days."

"You sure you should go?" Frank lets Gerard stand, but he closes in and drags his hand over Gerard's chest.

His healed hand, all pink and inkless.

"I'll be back before you know it." Gerard forces a smile on his face and lets himself peck Frank on the lips. He lingers with his forehead against Frank's for a few seconds, and then he goes to grab his helmet.

He doesn't say goodbye. They never do.


Gerard leaves the Trans Am at the diner; there's no need for it when he's just on a ghost run. He doesn't even take Mikey's bike for long, since Pony needs to head back out that way to talk to the guys about another run. Gerard cleans the blood off a Drac bike, blasts the electronics, and tears through the desert hours after its original owner died.

It never takes long for dirt to ruin the white paint.

Every job ends a few hours after it starts, and normally, Gerard would ride to the diner. Instead, he jumps in as backup for whichever crew is on patrol. Strangers don't know him well enough to say anything when he takes breaks to blot his bloody noses or to vomit in the dirt. Even 'runners have boundaries.

And no one looks twice when he buzzes his hair in a random safe house bathroom. It's a common style in the zones.

A week is when the fatigue really starts setting in. He's been sleeping at night again - his body can't handle full days without radiation shielding without any rest - but the seven-day mark is when his hands ache holding the bike handles. It'll only be a couple more days before he can't sit a bike at all. A couple days after that, and not even pills can save him.

Gerard kicks the stand into place and stares out at the mirage shimmering on the road by the safe house.

It was never an active plan in his head. He never thought, I am never taking those pills again. But he's put off his dose as long as he can, possibly beyond that point. It's almost out of his hands at this point.

He climbs on his bike, ignoring the soreness all over his body, and takes off.


Gerard doesn't go back to the diner. He doesn't go to Dr. Death Defying or any of the dozens of safe houses on his mental map. He goes to a patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere and sits. In the shade of a pile of rocks - he's not that stupid - but away from anything resembling civilization.

He sips from the only canteen attacked to his mask as the sun rises, following the tube down to his belt. His fingers trail across the pouches and over to the holster, and he pauses. Could he make himself pull the trigger? It would be easier to let the sun do it, or to take off his mask and breathe deep. After so long fighting to stay alive, it all seems absurdly simple.

Until a shadow falls across his lap. Torture isn't simple. Neither is capture. But if he shoots, if he puts up a fight...

"Don't," a muffled voice says.

Gerard drops his hand. He lifts his eyes and looks straight into Frank's eyes behind a gas mask.

"Or what?" he asks. "You'll shoot?"

Frank crouches to his level. "I should, asshole."

"Fuck you."

Frank grabs his shirt in two hands and drags him forward. "You broke your promise. You fucking...after everything."

Gerard shoves his arms away...or he tries, but he's too weak to pull it off. Frank shakes him a couple times before letting him fall back against the rocks.

"I never promised anything." He couldn't. Not in the zones. "How did you find me?"

Frank sniffs and kicks to his feet. "Everybody knows where the jobs are happening. I came to find you a couple days ago."

"But I took off."

"You left your bike by the road."

Frank points, and sure enough, Gerard's bike is actually still on gravel. Gerard blinks, but it's no mirage.

"You never promise," Frank says, "but if I ask you to do one thing for me, will you?"

Gerard shrugs.

"I can't stop you from doing this." When Gerard starts to interrupt, Frank holds up his hand. "Don't. I could tell you all the ways Mikey would die without you, or try to use whatever the hell we have, but you're a stubborn motherfucker."

"Not stubborn enough." When Gerard sniffles, it echoes tinny in his ear.

Frank sighs and drops to a crouch again. His shoulders have lost the sharp tension from earlier. "You deal with more shit than any of us. I get it. But I also can't you watch you every second of the day. You wouldn't need more than a second."

Gerard meets his eyes through two layers of dirty plastic. Frank pats his pocket, and Gerard can see a capsule outlined in the fabric of his jeans.

"One more time," Frank says. "To give you time to think. And if you decide to do it, really decide, I won't come after you again."

Gerard breathes once. Twice. And then he says, "Only if you let me take them all at once."

He expects Frank to waver. Instead, he says "Fine" right away and stands, hand out to Gerard.

Gerard takes it.


They don't go back to the diner. Frank has the Trans Am with supplies in the back, so it's easy to hole up in an unused safe house and close it off. Easy, in that they're ready in about an hour: Frank still has to defend the whole thing by himself when all the zonerunners know its location and it's right by a major route. But Frank refuses to go search for more. Not when they stop and Gerard pukes what little he has in his stomach out his exit valve.

Frank hands him the pills.

There's a lot of things that go could wrong, more than usual. He'll already be in a coma, to the point where Frank will have to stay awake to make sure he doesn't stop breathing and fix him an IV and a catheter. More could happen when Gerard wakes up. But it'll be over in three days, and Gerard won't be awake for any of it. He needs that, especially if he wants to keep his promise to Frank.

Gerard swallows the pills in one go, and he's out before he lies down.


Gerard doesn't die.

He doesn't remember anything from the days with the pills, and he doesn't ask Frank if there's any reason he looks pale before Frank curls up on the sleeping bag. Gerard also doesn't leave while Frank catches up on his missed rest. He doesn't need to sleep, so he curls up around Frank and listens to him breathe.

They just go back to the diner, say something about the jobs, and pretend it never happened. Mikey and Ray don't seem to know anything's different, although Mikey does give Gerard's hair frequent puzzled looks.

But Frank's always holding Gerard's hand every second he can get, and when he can't, he barely looks away. Gerard's always the one to break their gaze.

He has three months. Probably. And he has no idea how to tell Frank he isn't enough.